Astrid – Chapter 2
A world falls apart
‘He’s quite a spunk!’ – Maggie Bullen (September 1967)1
Astrid’s mother, Maggie, was a dairy farmer’s daughter in Victoria’s Western District.
One bright day in September 1967 a tall, shy, rosy-cheeked young Dane arrived on the Bullen farm, looking for work. He was hired on the strength of his experience with dairy cattle, back home in Denmark.
Sven Hansen, 22, proved a good worker; serious, capable and strong. Before many months had passed, he fell quietly in love with the farmer’s oldest daughter, a dark-eyed, chestnut-haired lass of 19, and she with him.
Sven and Maggie did their best to conceal their nascent romance from the rest of the household. Their best, in the tradition of young lovers everywhere, was not very good. There were winks and laughter at the pub, veiled references at the CWA, whispers and giggles between Maggie’s younger siblings.
Maggie’s father, Pat Bullen, was not the sort to suffer this sort of thing with equanimity. He had a long, serious talk with Maggie’s mother, Izzie, followed by a long, serious talk with Sven himself about the young man’s intentions towards his daughter.
Sven had no need for a long, serious talk with Maggie. Her quick response after his first, stuttered utterance, was: ‘Yes, of course. I thought you’d never ask.’ The wedding took place in December 1968.
It was understood that Sven and Maggie would take over the Bullen family farm, when the older generation was ready to retire. In the meantime, a neighbouring property came up for auction: a parcel of rough pasture that could be improved with hard work and good judgement, with a dilapidated weatherboard cottage, a rusty old barn and a milking shed. Pat and Izzie helped the young couple to put in a suitably modest bid, which was accepted.
Sven and Maggie Hansen settled down with quiet joy to improve the land and outbuildings, grow the herd, renovate and extend the cottage – and make babies. Astrid’s three older brothers Lars, Pat and Eric arrived in a flurry in 1969, 1971 and 1972; there was then a pause of seven years before Astrid herself arrived.
Many more busy, joyful years followed. Astrid’s early childhood years were happy ones. Her grandmother, one of her aunts or occasionally her mother would snatch a week or two mid-winter, before calving began, to take the children down to Port Fairy for some bracing sea air. There would be the same at New Year, escaping the summer heat and flies, while the men stayed home, tending the herd and keeping fire watch. Other than that, the farm was Astrid’s entire world until she was of an age to attend the local primary school.
Then, when Astrid was nine, the Accident changed everything.
A big Holstein cow, usually a sweet, placid animal, a good milker and one of Sven’s and Maggie’s favourites, was spooked by a clumsy farmhand dropping a churn in the yard. The gentle animal, panic-stricken, sought to escape the danger behind her and bolted. Maggie happened to be standing between the beast and safety; she was crushed against a gate post. By the time the ambulance arrived, an hour later, there was nothing to be done. Ruptured spleen, punctured lung, cardiac arrest.
His beloved wife’s death hit Sven hard. He in turn hit the grog. His morose, drink-sodden self-pity was tolerated for as long as possible, given a sympathetic wide berth. But it would not do. In the end, he was barred from the local pub after busting a barstool over a barman’s shoulder. The resolute, hard-working man sank into a deep depression and neglected the farm shamefully.
The Hansen boys were deemed old enough to cope, almost young men and away at boarding school much of the year anyway. Little Astrid was a different matter. It was decided that the best thing was to send her to stay with her cousins in faraway Denmark for a year, until things settled down and Sven hopefully ‘got his act together’.
Uncle Per and Aunty Lene on the quiet Danish island of Lolland had a daughter close to Astrid’s age. It was thought that Astrid, bright and a good scholar, would benefit from the chance to go to school in Denmark and become acquainted with her Danish heritage, before the serious business of high school, exams and university applications began.
The poor child resented the move exceedingly, arrived at Copenhagen airport on a grey July morning in bewildered tears, pleading: ‘I want to go home to Granny, Poppy and Daddy!’
Next week in Astrid:
Young Astrid settles in, becomes accustomed to the slow island life of Lolland …
spunk (Aus. infml, dated) – good-looking man